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Rockstar Does It Wild on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

It is a universally accepted sentiment that there are very few video games in the industry that are capable of evoking a true sense of emotion from the gamer. Critics have disengaged the idea that the medium can be deemed as an art form, thus alienating it from “traditional” art (poetry, sculpture, dance, etc.) However, for all it’s worth, Rockstar has developed a game that will possibly silence the critics for a very long time. Red Dead Redemption follows the story of John Marston, a former outlaw in pre-WW1 New Austin who rode in a gang that held an unorthodox code of conduct-take only what you need and give it to those who need it more. After being left for dead by the very people he called family, he finds himself in a terrible position. Federal agents take Marston’s wife and son into custody, promising a return to his normal life if he hunts down the outlaws that betrayed him. Hence, an unforgettable adventure across the American frontier (and even through parts of northern Mexico) begins.

?The first facet of RDR that I would like to address is gameplay. Harboring a smooth cover-and-fire shooting mechanic, RDR allows the complete immersion in the typical Western atmosphere. As John Marston, you can slide and duck behind nearly any tangible, sturdy object; from a partially eroded wall to a collection of boulders atop the crest of a wide hill, the cover system works well with this game. However, quirky camera movements can disorientate a gamer who does not know where he is positioned in relation to the enemy and may welcome a barrage of bullets into Mr. Marston. Admittedly, it is a small, even negligible con, but it deserves remark nonetheless. A crucial part of this game is horseback riding. Instead of cars riding along busy streets, you can purchase or tame horses and make them your own. It is your main method of travel, and I must say it is stunningly realistic. The horses themselves are arguably the best-looking horses in all of video game history, as you can see the muscles flex and the mane of hair flow as fast as you ride. Maneuvering your horse can be easy depending on the quality of said horse. Some are obviously faster than others are, but in a general overview, riding may be a little tricky to master in the beginning. But since it is something you do so much of in the game, your riding skills will be as sharp as your gun slinging. Unfortunately, the largest complaint I have about the game lies in this department. If your goal is to experience the game in its entirety, you will most likely encounter one or more bugs and glitches, most of them involving the horse. For example, if you are standing near a cliff or a body of water and you whistle for your horse, it will come in a rush of speed and possibly go right over said cliff or into said body of water. Also, jumping over obstacles can be a little frustrating and you may find yourself going right through them. Trust me when I say these glitches can provide for some humorous moments and they are not nearly enough to detract from the overall quality of the game. Oh, and did I mention that you can shoot while riding your horse? You may think, “Well how in the world am I going to do both?” The answer is simple-Dead Eye. Dead Eye is one of the coolest shooting perks I’ve seen in a game and it allows for a burst of cinematic excellence as time slows around you and you are able to mark specific enemies that you want to kill before firing your gun in a succession of bullet fire. To allow fairness, there is a meter that measures how much Dead Eye you have left in you so be wise when picking enemies to knock off. I could go on and on about the amazing gunplay you will see in this game. From the variety of weapons (including revolvers, pistols, rifles, and grating guns to name a few) to a physics system that brings you into reality (i.e. shooting an enemy off his horse and watching as his foot is caught and his steed drags him across rough desert terrain), the gameplay is something to talk about for sure. To add to the sense that you are in an awesome Clint Eastwood film, when you’re tired after a long day’s work you can ride into town and choose from a variety of activities. Poker, blackjack, liar’s dice, horseshoe, cattle herding, and arm wrestling are just some of the mini-games that you will learn to love (and learn to play if you never have). Finally, the economic system in the game is another feature that is worth talking about. Depending on if you are in a simple settlement or a complex town, there are numerous venues to choose from when you find yourself in need of a certain material. Gunsmiths, doctors, tailors, and general stores offer everything you need and more from maps of the area to new shipments of guns to a fine, elegant suit. Yet, it is not the actual economics that impresses me. Just as in real life, if you go to a store at one in the morning, it is likely that the clerk won’t be there. Yes, that’s right, video game characters need sleep as well. It is always cool observing a crowd of people walk out of the bar because its closing time or just because they’ve had a long and busy day. Oh God, I’ve spent too much time on gameplay. There are so many more things to do, but for the sake of maintaining your interest, I will move on.

?To all those Roger Eberts out there, let’s talk about art direction, setting, soundtrack, and (drum roll please) character development. There isn’t one word that can describe the art in this game, but I’ll try. Beautiful, gripping, awe-inspiring. Was that one? What Rockstar has achieved with this game in terms of its finesse is legendary. They have created the most stunning open-world game in history (yes it is better than Assassins Creed open-world). Have you ever wanted to round up your white stallion while in a rugged buster jacket, ride into the sunset dipping behind a horizon of mountains all while listening to a haunting melody by the Swedish musician Jose Gonzalez? Well now you can. In all seriousness, this may be the most visually aesthetic game created and do not think I’m not considering all the other great games out there. Mass Effect 2, Bioshock, AC, Fallout 3…all beautiful in their own way. But RDR manages to bring a feel to the gaming world that no other game has achieved for so many people at this point. There were seriously some times when playing the game that I had to question, “Wait I am playing a game, right?” The moment you start the game, you are seeing so many things that I can’t really talk about them all in this review for fear of writing a short story. Just to give you a taste of the geographical landmarks you can encounter, there are valleys you can ride through while taking out a gang hideout, snow-capped mountains that you can traverse, wide deserts with assortments of wildlife, broad rivers with beavers near the bank…There is also a very cool night-and-day cycle with the addition of some variable weather. How cool is it to ride with local militia into a dark and stormy night? These features in itself make the game worth buying, but in addition, the stellar soundtrack, headed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson, is wonderfully composed. Their music pushes the boundaries of game and work of art and I believe it achieves the latter. I’m sure that this soundtrack will do for 2010 what Bioshock’s did for 2007. Finally, the memorable characters in John Marston’s story will provide many laughs as well as moments of deep thinking. You will encounter a treasure-seeking gravedigger, a drunk, Irish arms dealer, and a cocaine-shooting science professor to name a few. Rockstar delivers once again in the dialogue department, having an exceptionally well-written script with humorous, solemn, and heart-warming moments.

?As much as I would love to spill the goods of RDR, I respect the game and the gamer enough for the two to guide each other on a journey the video game world has not seen before. The conclusion of John Marston’s journey and his road to redemption sees one of the most emotional endings I have seen in a game and from the remarks of others who have played it, I feel it will last well after you put the controller down. RDR is a game that delivers in all departments. The gameplay and controls are easy to learn and horseback riding is just one part of the formula that works so well. With an engaging story, a climactic end, and art direction so enticing you don’t want to stop playing the game, it can be said that this game is certainly a contender for game of the year. There are a few minor bugs and glitches, and sometimes the cover system may act against you, but other than that, I cannot find one thing to genuinely complain about. I completed the game feeling satisfied and accomplished and I would recommend this to anyone who claims to be a gamer. Whether you look for a little action, some comedy, or tragedy in Rockstar games, this one has it all. The GTA series remains Rockstar’s crowning achievement, but if the Red Dead series continues on this path, I would not be surprised if GTA took a step back and let the Wild West shine.



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